Once, I private-messaged one of my favorite authors at the time via social media asking when or if she was going to write another book in the series that had launched her career, a series of paranormal thrillers. She was promoting a memoir about her divorce at the time. She responded to me that sometimes there is a true story that needs to be told before one can write fiction. I was gobsmacked that she had replied so honestly and personally, but I also felt like she had gracefully put me in my place. She had just written, and was debuting to the world and discussing the deeply personal contents of, a true story from her own life about abuse and survival, and here was I the audacious fangirl wanting to know when she would get back to the story I wanted to see continue. I couldn’t yet relate to the profound self work it must have taken to process, and the courage it took to share such a story because I had not yet taken that journey myself.
I have spoken before of a violent incident that occurred to me as a teenager at the hands of a close male relative. I told myself that my situation wasn’t as bad as others I knew, wasn’t as bad as it could be, because I had no way out and needed to survive each day, keep being able to function in the ways I wanted to and needed to in life. No matter how scared or saddened I was by the treatment of some of the adults in my life, I wanted to maintain the strength to shield my little brother and sister from that part of our household with the imaginative games we played in our backyard.
I loved our yard. It was our refuge. In winter, it became a paradise of deep banks of blue-white, crisp fresh snow guarded by the ice covered pines of the surrounding forest. In spring, it burst into bloom and became a garden tended by the hands of God, fragrant with dog roses growing on bushes amongst the pines, decorated with the season’s first daffodils and delicate dogwoods. In summer, these were replaced by wild plum blossoms, honeysuckle, wild jasmine, and wild blackberries. We LARPed a neverending story about magical worlds of wizards hidden by the mists of Faerieland, or tales of vampires and wizards hidden in plain sight. We played until the summer sun set late in the evening, and then came inside to watch hours of VH1 countdowns, Nickelodeon cartoons, Disney Channel sitcoms, or some movie I felt was the height of cool at the time, like “Juno” or “Almost Famous.”
What we lacked in structure, we made up for in creativity and a bond as friends and creative collaborators as well as siblings. I didn’t feel safe around adults, but I was like a female Peter Pan in my little sibling group, leading the adventures through Neverland.
Things turned serious fast, as the 2008 financial crash derailed my college plans. The oldest of my siblings, I went to work instead of my plans to attend a community college in a neighboring county and then transfer to my dream university in the state capital. I have achieved a lot since. I did get my degree in English, and worked as a freelance journalist for a couple of years after graduating. I took a hiatus from that career, and began this blog as a way to sort out my thoughts after a difficult breakup.
However, many grueling years of working in retail have worn down my soul. Unpredictable cycles of overwork, abrupt unemployment, job seeking, proving myself on new jobs but watching ever vigilantly for signs that the currents of fortune are shifting yet again, trying to stay ahead of any ill winds, and physical exhaustion from my labors have beaten down the creativity and individuality I once drew on to survive as an adolescent. I have also carried the pain and trauma from the violent attack with me for a long time, longer than I realized.
Immediately after the attack, I suffered nightmares and panic attacks in my sleep, when I could fall asleep at all. I became more withdrawn at school. After graduating, the goal of finding a job consumed all my other thoughts, and I saw the workforce as a golden opportunity to remake myself. I was determined to be a valued employee, and thrived on praise and achievement. However, I was easily angered, short tempered to the extreme. I tried various vitamins and dietary changes to control my moods. I was diagnosed with a heart condition, and placed on a beta blocker medication for a time when I was only 19. Something was wrong, and I could never quite figure out what.
Around the time I started attending college classes online, I also began exploring the world of Yoga, alternative medicine, and New Age spirituality. Deep meditation practices uncovered the memories I had long repressed of what it was physically like to experience the violent attack. For the last four years, I have been processing the emotions of it. I felt ashamed, guilty, and weak, for a while. I was always a bold and independent girl who went toe to toe debating with the boys on any subject, stood up to male teachers, and had strong opinions even about the very adult issues I saw on the world news. My mother, a former journalist, welcomed this and we often engaged about politics and world affairs at the dinner table. My male relative saw things differently, and I felt guilty both that my bold nature had drawn his aggression and that I hadn’t lived up to who I thought I was at the time and defended myself.
Of course, I know now that unfairly blaming myself was just a facet of trauma. I was a kid-however stubborn, however willful, however precocious, I shouldn’t have been physically assaulted. No child, and no adult, should ever be treated violently.
I experienced anger at my attacker and the other adults who raised me, but I came to a place of forgiveness. Honest and open conversations with the adults who raised me, about what they were going through at the time I was growing up gave me more insight about the events I experienced. It took a while to accept these stories, but I am working every day on forgiveness. I sometimes feel I have reached it. My grandmother’s death opened some old wounds, but those are healing with time, too.
Yesterday, I was doing Yoga and had reached the last part of my routine, a brief meditation. I struggled for so long with the injustice that, aside from friends I had told my story to, my attack remained a family secret. No one had called 911 the night of or the day after it happened, or informed child protective authorities. My male relative remained in my life for years, and never suffered any legal consequences for what he had done to me. As I got older, I felt robbed of justice. He has overhauled his life and his personality, it is true. He has mellowed with age, and I can’t imagine him ever putting his hands on anyone again, or even being the rage fueled man that he was in his youth that made such violent actions possible. However, I still felt a nagging dissatisfaction that I had not had justice.
But, what is justice?
All I wanted growing up was a peaceful household where I felt welcomed and accepted. Yesterday, I spent a warm and relaxing day at home with my family, eating my mom’s delicious cooking, binging a true crime series on streaming, and then watching classic Tollywood musical number clips on YouTube with my mom and siblings. The violence, distance, and tension of the past has been replaced with laughter, cooperation, inside jokes and teasing banter. After losing my grandmother and supporting each other through the grief, we belong to each other even more fully. We got a second chance to be an even closer family. This is probably not our first second chance, and for that we are lucky-nay, blessed! We left the old house behind physically, now it is time for me to leave, forever, mentally and spiritually, too. Even the beautiful yard that was my haven is now a part of the past, and I feel more free to move on, than ever. When I was doing Yoga last night, a phrase drifted into my thoughts:
“A peaceful life is justice.”
I met these words with acceptance. The happiness I have found, within myself and with my family, is the justice I truly needed.
Time, forgiveness, healing, and blessings found their way to my family, and to me, despite challenges. The justice I most needed was a happy home, and a peaceful life. And I needed to reach this healing, so that I can dream again. I hope that with the past behind me, I can get back to telling the fictional stories I always aspired to tell.
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